33. Camping Interlude
The party immediately turned northwest. As they rode on, I_Am_A_Poor_Man pulled out the map and started scanning the area in that direction.
“Northwest…A few more hours and it won’t be soft sand dunes, but a barren desert filled with loess and rocks. Could the cave it’s referring to one of those muddy holes? There’re dozens, if not a hundred, of those. Tsk,” I_Am_A_Poor_Man remarked.
“Anyway, let’s deal with it when the time come–Watch out!” Below_The_Moon’s sharp eyes found something strange in the sands before the party. It looked like something was moving underneath it.
Everyone hurriedly reined in their horses. It was fortunate they’d all stopped for, about a metre before them, a row of tiny needles pricked up through the sand. If one didn’t look carefully at the desert floor, no one would’ve noticed them.
Swish! Below_The_Moon shot an arrow at the needles.
Chirp! Below the sands where the arrow landed, something began struggling.
“They’re tiny desert scorpions. Retrieve your mount. Protect Lucky.” Their mounts might die from scorpion venom if they were hit. None of them had a second horse.
“Tsk. The desert zones are so annoying,” CopperPlate said as he furiously stabbed and parried downwards, revealing several scorpions hiding under the sands.
“Looks like their A.I. got upgraded. They know to hide in sand dunes and ambush as a group now.”
Despite that comment, these were just tiny desert scorpions around Level 60 or so. The party need not do much to defeat them all. With the help of Below_the_Moon’s cunning eyes, all obstacles were quickly swept away.
However, no one let their mounts out instantly. Who knew just how many more scorpions would be buried deep beneath the sands? As a precaution, they’d best continue on foot.
“Seems like the map needs to be updated. There shouldn’t be such a dense population of scorpions here,” I_Am_A_Poor_Man shook the map in his hands as he said so. He, too, felt that such an abnormal danger was rather ridiculous.
“Think of it as an adventure. The desert gets cold rather quickly at night.” The Thirst bar increases at a greatly reduced rate too.
Thus, the party began discussing the problem of where to sleep for the night.
“Healers mark down a portal from here. Return to the city for the night and continue walking tomorrow morning?” This was a common tactic used during far-off grinding sessions. However, after the daily reset, every change to the portal after the initial marking would cost 1 crystal each. At most, the saved Teleport location can be changed twice in a day.
“I’ve got some bad news. The game says we’re currently on a special mission. I can’t use Teleport,” Chrysanthemum shrugged.
“…Aargh. Do we really have to camp outdoors?”
“We can log off.”
“Mn. That’s a good idea. Don’t oversleep tomorrow.”
“Camp,” HereticKing who’d not been participating in the discussion suddenly piped up.
“Oh. Roger,” came the Heretic Demons’ instant reply.
“Huh? That’s it?” CopperPlate was confused by the unanimous response.
“CopperPlate, it’s fine if you want to log off then. Our guild is used to camping together.” Before this, when they waited for some major boss or mission to start, they’d frequently camp down together. They’d even settled on a series of night guard schedules among themselves.
“It’s fine. NonMeta and I are used to camping outdoors too.” The two of them rarely ever trained with a healer.
“That’s settled then. I brought quite a few tents with me anyway,” I_Am_A_Poor_Man said with a pat at his bangle. He had a lot of random items stuffed in there.
“Will it be dangerous?” XiaoYu had never gone camping before. However, he was also afraid his question might sound childish, so he privately messaged the question to HereticKing.
“Yes. Monsters ambush. Other players too,” HereticKing replied.
“Then why camp?” XiaoYu had anticipated the above dangers would exist too. Hence, the more bewildered he was at HereticKing’s decision.
“You don’t like going offline. Is it not?” From the bits and pieces of information XiaoYu mentioned before, HereticKing hypothesised XiaoYu didn’t go to school or work. He spends the whole day inside the game. Plus, he’d noticed XiaoYu faintly frowning at the mention of logging off. Thus, even if he didn’t know why XiaoYu was escaping from reality, he didn’t want to put the other in a tough spot. Anyway, he’d been so bossy and tyrannical all along. Everyone around him was used to it.
“…I’m sorry.” XiaoYu lowered his head. He did indeed not want to go offline. Not only did he not want to leave the tiny cat, he also didn’t want to face an empty house all alone. The two days of maintenance felt like years to him. So, he’s that greedy of a person. Once he’d tasted what it’s like to have someone (a tiny cat) being by his side, he never wanted to be alone ever again.
“Don’t apologise. There’s some perks to camping.” If the others knew what they were talking about, they would all be jumping up and down. They’d shout, this was a textbook case of lying without even blinking.
“Chief, you’re bullying LuckyCat again!” I_Am_A_Poor_Man saw LuckyCat’s head droop down and HereticKing ruffling the other’s hair. His intuition told him this was all the result of some conversation going on behind his back.
“Ugh…” It’s no fun being a hero these days. I_Am_A_Poor_Man shirked back. Fine. LuckyCat didn’t want his protection? So be it. If the other was really stolen away by HereticKing later, he’d set off fireworks in celebration.
As anticipated, there were plenty of scorpions waiting to ambush them all along the way. But to the prepared party, it was a piece of cake. They transformed into gold and items with no effort. Their corpses were even whipped and diced by a certain fuming chef, in the name of collecting ingredients for their dinner later.
At 10 pm, they were fortunate enough to pass by a miniature oasis. Thus, the group decided to camp there. As for why it’s miniature, it only had a tiny pond about 2 metres in diameter and a small unhealthy tree.
Around four players could sleep in a single tent. Taking into consideration night shift pairings, and some negotiation, the tents were distributed like so: Chrysanthemum would have a tent all to herself as she’s the only female; Ice_For_Miles, Below_The_Moon and Poor_Man would share one; NonMeta would share another with CopperPlate; LuckyCat will squeeze in with HereticKing. Party members will take turns staying up according to their tents. When it’s time for Chrysanthemum’s shift, Ice_For_Miles will be woken up to keep guard with her.
The party had intended to not assign a shift to Chrysanthemum because she’s a girl. After some grumbling by I_Am_A_Poor_Man about how she’s scarier than a man, which resulted in Chrysanthemum pinching his cheeks sore, the party decided to just treat her the same as any other male.
XiaoYu wasn’t supposed to be assigned a shift either, but he insisted on how he can’t just be protected all the time and do nothing. So, the party threw him at HereticKing. With the Chief taking care of him, they didn’t have to worry at all.
Once the tents were all set up, the mighty chef Poor_Man dug out a whole set of cooking equipment and showed off his excellent Profession. With a few bangs and clashes, a special dish from the desert was procured – a scorpion banquet. Initially, everyone took a bite in the name of trying something new. Then, the great war over food began. They even called out for a few more scorpions to ambush them now. There wasn’t enough to even munch on.
Perhaps those cruel words scared all the scorpions off. It was quiet and peaceful the whole way through the night.
“Yaawn~” The big and tiny cats let out a yawn in unison. It was XiaoYu’s and HereticKing’s shift right now.
“Not used to staying up late?”
“Mn. Going to be early and waking up early is good for your body.” A magnificent tradition of the Bai family.
“Then go sleep.”
“No way. I can’t always make you guys take care of me.” XiaoYu perked up his mind. He had a look at the time and refreshed the buffs on the both of them. Then, he started petting the tiny cat, lulling it to sleep. There’s no need to force it to stay up late with him.
HereticKing knew that once XiaoYu was set on something, not even a herd of bulls can pull him back. Thus, he didn’t advice XiaoYu to go sleep again.
“Um…That…Thank you,” XiaoYu softly said after a long pause.
“You don’t need to apologise, nor do you need to thank me. Camping can train one’s survival skills and adaptability. There’s no loss from doing so.”
“Oh…You’re not going to ask why?”
“Everyone has something they prefer to keep private. If you won’t tell me, then I won’t ask.” HereticKing was way past the age of curiosity. “But if you’re looking for someone to open your heart to and vent out, you can look for me anytime.”
“Mn.” A stream of warmth trickled through his heart. It’d be a lie to say he wasn’t moved that someone cared so much for him.
“Purr…purr…” The tiny cat twisted and turned. Its belly rose and fall with each snore. Occasionally, it’d smack its lips, as if it was dreaming of the meal it had just now.
“They all say a pet is like its owner. Are you like this too when you’re asleep?”
“I’m not. >///<” XiaoYu had yet to realise he’s just being teased.
“Hehe…” The moon shone bright tonight. XiaoYu’s blushing face from all that teasing was crystal clear to HereticKing’s eyes. He’s in such a good mood. Night guard shifts weren’t that boring after all.
Reality proved that it’s best one didn’t push too hard to do something one wasn’t used to. In the last 10 minutes of their shift, XiaoYu was unable to resist the urge to sleep. His body tilted to a side, fast asleep.
When he realised HereticKing ended up carrying him back to the tent, it was already the next morning. Of course, what ended up happening was if an egg was cracked on his head, it’d instantly turn into a fried egg.